Pornography Addiction in Adults: A Systematic Review of Definitions and Reported Impact

J Sex Med. 2016 May;13(5):760-77. doi: 10.1016/j.jsxm.2016.03.002.


Introduction: Self-perceived pornography addiction (SPPA) has increasingly emerged as a concept in research and popular culture, and commentators warn of the reported negative impact that it has. Despite this, "pornography or porn addiction" is not a formally recognized disorder and there is disagreement among researchers regarding its definition or even its existence. Therefore, how SPPA is operationalized often varies, and this is likely to influence the conclusions made about the impact of SPPA.

Aim: This review aimed to examine what the supposed impact of SPPA is, and how the concept is operationalized.

Methods: A systematic review of quantitative and qualitative peer-reviewed journal articles was conducted. The following databases were searched up to November 2015: CINAHL (2001-2015), Embase (1974-2015), Medline (1946-2015), PsychARTICLES (1980), and PsychInfo (1806-2015). Terms used were porn*, sexually explicit material, SEM, erotic*, nonparaphilic, cyberpornography, addict*, problematic, excess*, compul*, impul*, impact, effec*, behav*, and cause. An asterisk after a term means that all terms that begin with that root were included in the search.

Main outcome measures: A review of the the current literature pertaining to SPPA and its reported impact.

Results: We found that SPPA is most frequently operationalized as excessive pornography use and negative consequences. As a result, researchers tended to focus on the frequency of pornography use and related impact as determinants of SPPA. SPPA is reported to affect users and their partners in similar ways, such as increased feelings of isolation and relationship breakdowns. However, we found some methodologic limitations of the primary studies, which limit the strength of the conclusions that can be drawn. Limitations include the lack of representative samples and inadequate measurements of SPPA and its impact.

Conclusion: There still exist a debate regarding the definition and etiology of SPPA as distinct from self-perceived sex addiction. As such, the research landscape is shaped by different theoretical perspectives. Without evidence to suggest one theoretical position as superior to another, clinicians might be at risk of recommending treatment that is in line with their theoretical perspective (or personal biases) but at odds with the motivations driving an individual to engage in particular sexual behaviors. In light of these findings, the review concludes with recommendations for future research.

Keywords: Addiction; Definitions; Impact; Pornography; Review.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Behavior, Addictive / diagnosis
  • Behavior, Addictive / psychology*
  • Erotica / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Internet
  • Male
  • Self Concept*
  • Sexual Behavior / psychology*
  • Young Adult